Sunday, November 29, 2009
Baghdad Update 4
I went walking in a park in Baghdad for the first time since I got here four weeks ago. It was pure bliss. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, Baghdadis were out celebrating the Eid festival, a 4 (or more) day holiday that this year roughly coincided with the long Thanksgiving weekend back home.
This is a scene Sunday from the park along Abu Nawas Street, which winds along the banks of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, and has had an up-and-down history over the last few years, to say the least. Security at the checkpoints was tighter than normal as we drove toward the park (crowds=targets for suicide bombers), but my Iraqi colleagues tell me the area is much more normal than during the terrible years of 2004-2007. It was amazing and wonderful to see families strolling, pictures being taken, youths banging drums and playing other musical instruments, and shy couples walking hand in hand or going for rides in horse-drawn carriages like the one in the photo above.
The Tigris River could use some serious urban reclamation, sadly. Trash washes up on the river banks, and untreated sewage pours from pipes into the river. The Tigris itself is sadly low, due to the drought Iraq has suffered for many years in a row, and to what locals say are dams that Turkey has built along the river's headwaters.
For those who don't work (or live, like Iraqis) in a war zone, it's hard to describe the feeling of walking in the open sunshine, enjoying blue skies and seeing people act normal. Think of being seriously ill in the hospital for weeks on end, and then taking your first steps outside on a nice spring day.
And the birds - hadn't forgot them. A pair of Pied Kingfishers hovered over a swampy area close to the river's banks. Great Cormorants sailed over the rivers. (Two ticks for my Iraq list). A White Wagtail did its wagtail thing on a sidewalk, before flying up into a tree. My Iraqi colleague, L., who's into birds a bit, excitedly pointed to a bird skulking about some bushes that he assured me wasn't a House Sparrow. He was right. We never got a great look at it, but with its stiff, upturned tail, it was obviously a wren or prinia or something in that zone.
At one point, I suggested we should have brought our bins. Without missing a beat, L. disagreed. "They'd probably snipe you from the American Embassy," across the river, he said.
It's still a war zone, after all.